Major Developments Take Fort Lee Lane Closure Issue National

December 16, 2013

It has been more than three months since the Port Authority's closure of Fort Lee access lanes to the George Washington Bridge caused traffic chaos in the town endangering public safety and raising questions about whether the action was an act of political retribution by members of Governor Christie's administration.  A recent timeline put together by the Star Ledger details how, over that period, the issue has grown from a concern about questionable judgment by Port Authority officials to a national scandal.

Within the past two weeks, as a result of both legislative hearings conducted by the Assembly Transportation Committee, which I chair and quality investigative reporting from area newspapers, Governor Christie's top two appointees to the agency have resigned.

The pace of events surrounding the Port Authority investigation began accelerating on December 6th, the Friday before an Assembly Transportation hearing at which Port Authority officials were scheduled to testify under subpoena. Late that Friday afternoon the Governor announced David Wildstein's resignation from his position as Director of Interstate Capital Projects at the Port Authority. Wildstein had been identified as the mastermind behind the alleged Fort Lee traffic study that resulted in the lane closures. 

While the Governor may have hoped that Wildstein's resignation would put an end to the issue, the Assembly Transportation Committee hearing on Monday, December 9th resulted in dramatic testimony and that raised additional questions about the decision to close the Fort Lee tolls lanes and the reasons behind it. The agency's Executive Director, Patrick Foye described the lane closings as "illegal" and "improper" and said that he was unaware of any traffic study.

Professional staff at the agency also testified that they were directed by Wildstein not to tell the Foye about the lane closures and, by their silence, demonstrated that a "culture of fear" existed at the agency.  One reporter described the hearing as "riveting" and said that she had "never seen anything like it."

On Monday evening, the controversy garnered national attention following my appearance on the Rachel Maddow show, and her follow up stories since.

More controversy erupted when the Wall Street Journal reported that Governor Christie had spoken with Governor Cuomo following the hearing to complain that Cuomo's appointee Foye "was pressing too hard for answers."  Despite Christie's denial of having raised the issue, Wall Street Journal reporter Ted Mann closed his own interview on Rachel Maddow's show this past Friday by stating that the paper "stands by the story." 

Then on this past Friday, Governor Christie announced that his top appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, had submitted his resignation. Following the resignation, I spoke to NJTV about the ongoing situation:

As events over the past two weeks demonstrate, despite the protestations of the Governor, the issue of the lane closures, who ordered them and the resulting threat to public safety are substantive concerns that require further investigation. That opinion is shared by the editorial pages of the Star Ledger and Gannett newspapers.

On Thursday, I issued additional subpoenas for documents to help the committee answer the questions that have arisen as a result of last week's testimony.  

Despite the Governor's suggestion that this issue had become an "obsession", questions still remain about how a decision that threatened public safety was made. It was an action the Executive Director of the agency described as illegal and that has already resulted in the resignation of New Jersey's two top managers at the agency. As described in a column by the Star Ledger's Tom Moran, my investigation has been "careful and thorough." I intend to continue pursuing it with the same deliberation wherever it leads.